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  • Writer's pictureMikelle Drew

28 Days of Black Fashion History: Cross Colours

Many things are synonymous with the 90s, but in fashion, if you talk about streetwear, you have to talk about Cross Colours. The brand, started by TJ Walker and Carl Jones, was a phenom and attempted to inject positivity and inclusivity into the youth culture.

Carl started a graphic design and screen printing company out of fashion school called Surf Fetish. As his business grew, he needed more graphic designers and TJ answered an ad for the job. Eventually, he became unhappy with the direction of the business, so he shut it down. A month later, he and TJ started Cross Colours. And the inspiration: a piece of Kente cloth.

So where did the name come from? “We started with the name Cross Cultures because we really wanted something to be inclusive, and we wanted to identify with the culture,” Walker says. But after some legal issues with the name, they settled on Cross Colours, which was a better fit for the brand and it’s philosophy, anyway. The gangs were identified by colors, and Cross Colours was about unity.

Cross Colours quickly became popular, with a little help from the many celebrities who agreed to wear the brand for free. Carl and TJ brought the items that didn't make the line to studios, trying to get them on celebrities. One of their big breaks was having a shirt worn by Will Smith on his hit show, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Their clothing would also appear on TV and movies including In Living Color, Martin, Sister Act and Boomerang. Cross Colours was also embraced and worn regularly by some of the 90s most popular entertainers including TuPac, TLC, and emergining actor, Djimon Hounsou.

Will Smith during his Fresh Prince days wearing Cross Colours

TLC in 1992 (Courtesy of Cross Colours)

Cross Colours apparel makes an appearance in Boomerang.

In fact, when they did the Las Vegas Magic Show in 1990, there were lines of people waiting to order their clothing. They wrote somewhere between $8 and $12M in orders. And even with delays on their orders, the brand was so hot that buyers agreed to wait. And why wouldn’t they? As soon as the product hit the store, it would sell. With 100% sell thru!

Original sketches of Cross Colours' designs.

[Photo- Elon Shoenholz/courtesy California African American Museum]

One of the main tenets of the brand was giving back. Their philosophy of of “Clothing Without Prejudice” is emblazoned on every garment, and their graphics were filled with empowerment. Phrases like “Increase the Peace” and “Educate to Elevate” were just a couple of the inspirational messages that could be found on their clothing. Carl and TJ would give away t-shirts, free haircuts, toothpaste, soap.

But after three years, one of their biggest accounts, Merry-Go-Round, went bankrupt, and they were left with millions of dollars of inventory. That put the business on hold for 20 years!

Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre were early supporters of the Cross Colours brand.

In recent years, Cross Colours has re-emerged and begun introducing itself to a whole new generation. In 2019, the California African American Museum curated an exhibit dedicated to the brand’s history. Cardi B and Bruno Mars wore Cross Colours when they performed together at the grammy’s, and the internet is buzzing with searches for vintage Cross Colours merchandise. And the message behind the brand still resonates today: unity, equality and empowerment.

Cardi B and Bruno Mars perform at the 2018 Grammys wearing Cross Colours.

An exhibition at the California African American Museum, which runs thru March 2, 2020, features original product on mannequins, posters and graphics from the brand.

[Photo- Elon Shoenholz/courtesy California African American Museum]

“I can’t believe that the slogan we printed on our T-shirts, ‘Clothing Without Prejudice,’ is something that still needs to be said today,” Jones says. “That was in the ’90s, and I think it’s as relevant today as it was then, maybe even more so.”

Carl and TJ of Cross Colours in 2014.

This blog post was originally published February 2, 2020.


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